The new world record of 24 hours of racing

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At 10 am on Saturday 17 September Aleksandr Sorokin, a 40-year-old Lithuanian ultramarathon runner, started running in Verona, near the Porta Nuova station, on a circuit of about a kilometer and a half, partly on an athletics track and partly on asphalt . Around 250 female and male athletes have begun to do it with him, representing almost thirty countries in the 23rd edition of the 24-hour European Championships.

At 10 am on Sunday 18 September, after both the night and a few hours of rain had arrived and passed in the meantime, Sorokin took the last steps of his race and, at the signal of the judges who announced the stroke of 24 hours , he stopped and placed the placeholder on the ground with his name on it, necessary to indicate how far he had come in that last lap.

Multiplying the laps made by Sorokin by the length of the route, it was established that, in 24 hours, he had covered 319 kilometers and 614 meters: the new world record in the 24 hours, which touches the “wall” of 200 miles (319.614 kilometers are equal to 198.599 miles) and which improves the previous record set by the same athlete by more than ten kilometers.

Sorokin – who among other things is also the world record holder for 12 hours, 100 kilometers and 100 miles – is one of the strongest ultramarathon runners in the world. And he became one very quickly: until ten years ago, in fact, he had never taken part in a running race, not even in one. simple marathon. It has also become so in a sort of niche-in-the-niche of ultramarathons: that of circuit racing.

A niche that still has its following, even in Italy. In fact, at the European Championships in Verona there were twelve Italian athletes and two of them – the 46-year-old from Friuli Marco Visintini and the thirty-year-old Roman Eleonora Rachele Corradini – set new national records. In 24 hours, Visintini and Corradini ran 288,438 and 235,667 kilometers respectively.

The idea of ​​running for more kilometers than those of a marathon, whose distance was codified only in 1921, is ancient and partly linked to the history of competitive walking, which was in vogue in the nineteenth century, when we competed in foot races. which lasted for hundreds of miles or even six days.

Ultramarathons, as the name suggests, are races over distances of over 42 kilometers and 195 meters. In general, however, everything over 50 kilometers is considered ultramarathon: from “ultra trail” races, which go up and down mountain trails accumulating altitude, to races over distances as round as 100 kilometers, or on time.

– Read also: The history of the marathon

In recent years, ultra trail races have been particularly successful among running enthusiasts (as well as companies in the sector), the most important and well-known of which is the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a 170-kilometer race on three sides of Mont Blanc, which this year received over 22 thousand requests to participate.

Compared to ultra trail races or ultramarathons from point A to point B (such as the 100 kilometers of the Passatore, from Florence to Faenza), races on the track or on circuits like Verona have always had a little less success. For obvious reasons, however, there are still those on which it is more natural to discuss when it comes to records.

There are clear differences between the two types of competition. In the first case there are altitude difficulties and treacherous paths set in landscapes to admire. In circuit racing there is more scope for making constant efforts, as you can have immediate feedback on your pace at each lap.

In a race like that of Verona – which in addition to being a European championship was also the 28th edition of a race known as Lupatotissima, a race open to participants of all ages and levels – ultramarathon runners have no climbs, descents or other obstacles. kind to overcome and can thus concentrate only on running. Which is good, but also bad: as anyone who has run, even less than 24 hours, on the track or maybe on a treadmill can testify, the repetitiveness of the context makes the mental effort required even more trying and in the long run nerve-wracking. run across.

To this type of racing that some practitioners compare to the activity of hamsters in wheels, Sorokin only arrived in 2012, at the age of thirty, without ever having raced seriously.

Son of Sergej, coach of Lithuanian Olympic athletes, as a boy Sorokin had been a promising canoeist whose career stopped at the age of 18 due to shoulder problems. After that, for a decade he was anything but a great sportsman and came to weigh over a quintal. As many do, he started running to get back in shape and after getting a taste of it he ran a half marathon and signed up for a marathon.

Sorokin said that while training in the streets and parks of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, he found the flyer for a 100-kilometer race. He signed up and finished it in ninth place in 8 hours, 37 minutes and a few seconds. He decided to continue, experimenting with other distances and other times, but always remaining in the context of ultramarathons, and almost always in that of circuit ultramarathons.

Interviewed by iRunFar Sorokin said that in his life the race came after “alcohol, cigarettes and a lot of food” and that in a short time “they ran out of alcohol and cigarettes and the race started.” Of his predilection for flat and circuit racing, he said: “I like numbers, and I need to know speed, laps and distances.” While some ultramarathon runners tell of reaching, after several hours of effort, almost mystical psycho-physical states, Sorokin says that this is not the case for him, and about what happens while running he mentions the need to implement a “radical acceptance” of effort. Of the last hours of a 24-hour race he said: “There’s only one word to describe them, and that’s torture.”

In 2019 Sorokin won the 24-hour World Championships for the first time and in 2021 he improved by a few kilometers the world record set by the Greek Yiannis Kouros, who in 1997 had covered 303 kilometers and 506 meters in one day. In Verona Sorokin surpassed his 2021 record, improving by ten kilometers.

Improving his previous record Sorokin averaged over 13 kilometers per hour in 24 hours, taking an average of 4 minutes and 30 seconds for each of those 319 kilometers. Many decent runners would have struggled to keep up with him for more than a couple of hours; many people would not even be able to run a kilometer at the pace he held for a day.

To those who ask him how he managed to improve a record for years considered unsurpassable, and how he then managed to improve so much in such a short time, Sorokin replies by citing the arrival, a few months ago, of a Polish coach who follows him. But he adds that his many records in recent months, including that of Verona, are an indirect consequence of the coronavirus. In fact, in 2021, Sorokin lost his job as a croupier in a casino and was therefore able to train full time: “I eat, sleep and run,” he said, adding however that he also has a couple of other hobbies, for example travel and video games, above all Dark Souls And Bloodborne.

There is, however, nothing strange in the fact that Sorokin is doing all this at the age of 40. In ultramarathons it is common for the best athletes to be his age or older.

Of his workouts, Sorokin said that, in the months leading up to a big race, there are usually two per day: one is the main one, the other is for recovery. When he has to prepare for a few races he can run more than 25o kilometers a week, with single workouts that can exceed 50 kilometers.

– Read also: When he walked for sport

Corradini’s training was a little different, as he ran 235 kilometers and 677 meters in Verona between 10 am on Saturday and Sunday. Corradini, who had a son in July 2021, resumed training in January. You did a half marathon, then a marathon, then a 12-hour race and then, in May, the 100 kilometers of the Passatore: with a time of 8 hours and 29 minutes she was first among women and twelfth overall. In between, at a certain point, Corradini also had Covid.

The preparation – he said – became more demanding in August, when together with his coach and given the limited time available he chose to do “many close training sessions” with the aim of simulating the race pace.

The 24-hour race, he says, “is the hardest ever”, because on the circuit and because “you are often willing to race against the clock in places that are not exactly beautiful”. During the race in Verona he says he had “an infinite crisis, a black tunnel that began at the seventh hour that seemed to have ended at the ninth and instead ended only around the twelfth”. Fortunately, he adds, “it was a headache, not a physical one.”

Corradini says that “apart from a bit of blisters” the post-race recovery “is proceeding really well”. Already on Sunday, he adds, he could go out for a jog of a few kilometers, just “to remind the legs how to run”.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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